Pedal pushers: Bicycles coast through some fun books for kids

Nine-year-old Maryn Harvey of Bryant has the basket of her brand new bicycle loaded with books about bikes.

Summer gives kids time for reading and riding, which makes books about bicycles a good choice for children in May.

But not just any old bicycle book will do for Coreen Frasier, a retired schoolteacher who is one of the League of American Bicyclists' 16 licensed cycling instructors in Arkansas.

"All the books should show the kid wearing a helmet," she says.

Frasier insists that books depict helmets because she reads aloud to kindergartners in Bryant public schools as part of her bicycle safety lessons. "They're really young and they have real short attention spans," she says.

Reading one-on-one with a child could be an entirely different matter. A safety-minded adult would be able to point out any missing helmets and comment on that. But groups?

"I get a book, I read the book, and then I talk to them about helmets" -- right away, Frasier says.

She likes to segue from the book to letting kids try on some inexpensive, fun-theme helmets. "I have one with a crew-cut on it. One is like R2D2. One is a little princess helmet. The little girls all want to try on a Frozen helmet," she says. Chain stores carry children's helmets that are much more fun than the ones they stock for adults.

Where does she find the books?

"Do what I do," she suggests. "Go to the library. Just go to the desk or call them and say, 'I want all the names of all the children's books for first through sixth grade that have bicycles.' They'll get them for you and you can come check them out."

It works. We called Abby Kerby, youth programmer at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library and Learning Center in Little Rock. In less than an hour we had a pile of books Kerby recommends.

Here are some of the titles from that stack.

The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

"It doesn't have words, it's just a pictures book," Kerby says.

What's it like? Although a book with tan pages could be off-putting, Pett's clean pencil and ink cartoons tell an engaging story that begins as soon as you part the covers. The action is easy to follow because "pops" of color highlight main characters against the drab background.

While impatiently dragging her little brother along a sidewalk, a girl spots a green bicycle in a shop window. She wants it. She scrounges change and seeks odd jobs to earn money to buy the bike, persisting when most of her neighbors won't hire her. Time passes and seasons change, but she doesn't give up. A kind neighbor hires her to do all kinds of jobs, and they work together. Finally, she has the cash for the bike.

But it appears she has arrived too late -- the bike is gone. After a glum moment she recovers her spirits and instead buys a tricycle for her brother.

But then the kind neighbor surprises her with the very bike she has been working to buy.

We see this child develop a better attitude toward her brother and recognize the kindness of her neighbor.

Do the characters wear bike helmets? No.

Along a Long Road by Frank Viva (Little, Brown & Co., 2011).

What's it like? Easy to read language-wise and action-wise, too. Bold graphics in a sophisticated color palette depict the pleasures of speedy cycling.

An oddly elongated boy rides an oddly elongated bike from open country through a busy city and back to the country. Each page includes just one or two words in large font.

This is a contemporary landscape, with powerlines, lottery tickets and potential pitfalls. He runs over an apple, which stops him, though without crashing. Soon he's up and riding on. At the end, he wants to do it again.

Does the character wear a helmet? Yes.

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013).

Frasier really likes this book because the helmet is almost bigger than the little girl wearing it.

What's it like? Watercolor people with casually realistic dimensions navigate a busy, colorful cityscape. Simple sentences instruct a small girl in how to go about selecting a bike and beginning to ride.

"Watch everyone ride. They all learned how."

We see a father figure help the girl as she tumbles from the bike many times and finds the courage to get back up. On the final page we're told she will never forget how to ride.

The simple story includes something mildly controversial: training wheels. Parents hip to a modern teaching method that eschews trainers in favor of starting the kid on a balance bike without pedals could gloss over that.

Does the character wear a helmet? Yes. It's like a blue watermelon.

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon (The Blue Sky Press, 2002).

What's it like? Vivid. Shannon's brightly colored paintings depict a happy world of farm animals.

Duck finds an unguarded bike in the yard and takes it for a spin. Every animal he passes thinks something different from what it says aloud about seeing a duck ride a bike.

After a passel of human children zoom up and disappear into the house, leaving their defenseless bikes in the yard, all the animals pile aboard and pedal merrily around.

Do the characters wear helmets? No, they are animals.

Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen by Cari Best, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Melanie Kroupa Books, 2006).

What's it like? With paragraphs and large-font lettering on brightly watercolored pages, this is not a book for short attention spans.

Exuberant and confident, Sally Jean Sprocket learns to love cycling early, while carried in a child seat behind her mother. As she grows up she gets a tricycle and then a small yard-sale bike with training wheels. Once the wheels come off, she names her bike Flash.

Flash's saddle is raised as she grows, but then suddenly she's too big. Her father says she'll have to wait a year for a new bike.

Undaunted, she opens a series of sidewalk businesses and earns money. She's happy with herself, happy with life. She's even kind to her little brother. What a girl.

Does the character wear a helmet? Yes.

My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa M. Mollel, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Clarion Books, 1999).

What's it like? Masterful watercolors show us Tanzania in the not-distant past, where we meet a recognizably loving family in an unfamiliar but understandable setting. A boy works hard to save money to buy a bicycle in the market to help his mother carry the family's produce to sell. He saves for months.

Meanwhile his father is teaching him -- with many bumps along the way -- to ride his large bike, and to balance loads on it.

Finally the boy's certain he has saved enough, 350 coins. But the bike vendor laughs at him, dashing his proud hope. All those coins amount to a pittance.

The boy does not get the beautiful new bike he wanted, but when his father brings home a motorbike, he learns he can buy his father's old wheels. And then his father returns the coins to him, a thank-you for how much he has helped the family.

Does the character wear a helmet? No.

Vera Rides a Bike (Vera Rosenberry (Henry Holt and Co., 2004).

What's it Like? Tidy watercolor illustrations create a neat little world with realistic challenges.

A little girl's beloved red tricycle is stolen while she and her mother enjoy a day in the park. Then the sky opens and they are soaked.

She's too small for her sister Elaine's bike, although Elaine and she have fun as she tries. But she misses her tricycle, even though she was too big for it. After she's moped for months, her father repairs Elaine's first, small bike and gives it to Vera.

Vera needs help getting on and off but she's able to balance and ride around.

One day she decides to ride alone. A friend helps her hop and and off she goes. She has a great time until the sun starts to set -- and she remembers she can't stop by herself. With no one around to ask for help, she works up her nerve to use the brakes for the first time. The bike stops, but she doesn't. She survives with skinned knees and elbows.

And she's proud of herself.

Does the character wear a helmet? Yes, and a good thing, too.


Book cover for "My Rows and Piles of Coins" by Tololwa M. Mollel


Book cover for "Duck on a Bike" by David Shannon


Book cover for "Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen" by Cari Best


Book cover for "Vera Rides a Bike" by Vera Rosenberry


Book cover for "Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle" by Chris Raschka


Book cover for "The Girl and the Bicycle" by Mark Pett


Book cover for "Along a Long Road" by Frank Viva


Youth programmer Abby Kerby helps Na’kira Brown, 12, check out books Wednesday from the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center in Little Rock.


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ActiveStyle on 05/14/2018